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Obama Earmarks $150 Million for Clinics to Publicize Law

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is enlisting the help of community health clinics to promote the 2010 health-care law in a $150 million effort to make sure uninsured people are aware of new coverage options available Oct. 1.

The money will let the clinics hire and train staff and conduct community outreach and other educational activities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said today in a statement. The $150 million is being taken from a pool of $9.5 billion that was already going to community clinics to help them treat more patients as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The clinics may become a key avenue for President Barack Obama’s effort to get millions of uninsured people enrolled in new state-run insurance exchanges or in government Medicaid programs. About 36 percent of community health center patients are uninsured, said Martin Kramer, a spokesman for the HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, in an e-mail.

“Investing in health centers for outreach and enrollment assistance provides one more way the Obama administration is helping consumers understand their options and enroll in affordable coverage,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the statement.

There are about 8,700 of the clinics nationwide, and they are expected to see about 21 million low-income patients this year.

Insurance Exchanges

On Oct. 1, new insurance exchanges open in every state to sell policies to people who don’t get medical coverage through their jobs. The government has said it plans to spend about $1.5 billion through the end of September building the exchanges. It hasn’t announced a similar budget for marketing, to make sure the exchanges have enough customers to be viable.

A spokesman for U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said the outreach efforts at clinics would detract from patient care. McConnell, like other Republicans, opposes the health law and voted against it.

“Americans would be surprised to learn that the Obama administration is diverting their tax dollars from patient care to be used for expanding the Obamacare bureaucracy,” said Don Stewart, the senator’s spokesman.

The health clinics already employ about 4,000 workers to assist patients with insurance issues and other matters, Mary Wakefield, the HRSA administrator, told reporters in a conference call. The extra money is expected to double the number of outreach workers, she said.

Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, didn’t immediately comment on Stewart’s remarks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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